DeMar DeRozan Delivered an Unforgettable First Season in Chicago

With the Chicago Bulls’ first playoff appearance in five seasons checked off the to-do list, I think we can officially call the 2021-22 season a step in the right direction. But we also know this aggressive front office isn’t going to be satisfied with a quick five-game series. The goal is to take another large step forward this offseason, and that process starts with understanding exactly where everyone on the current roster stands. 

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to review each member of the Chicago Bulls 2021-22 roster. We’ll talk about how they looked this year, what they need to improve on, and what the future might have in store for them.

Here’s a list of our previous posts in this series:

Ayo Dosunmu
Nikola Vucevic

Stats

Games played: 76

PPG: 27.9*
AST: 4.9
REB: 5.2

FG%: 50.4
3P%: 35.2*

*career-high

DeMar DeRozan was undoubtedly the best player to sport a Chicago Bulls uniform this season. In fact, he was one of the best players to sport any uniform this season. His 27.9 points per game ranked 7th in the NBA, and his 2,118 total points scored sat behind only Trae Young (2,155) for the most in the regular season. We also watched him shoot the third-most free-throw attempts in the league, as he repeatedly caught defenders off guard with his elite footwork.

Of course, we also can’t tell the story of DeRozan’s first year wearing red without talking about his performance in the clutch. Nobody scored more points in the fourth quarter than DeRozan this season. He added 84 more points than reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his 54.6 field goal percentage sat second-best among players who scored at least 295 points in that final frame. He also tied for having the fewest turnovers among the NBA’s top-12 fourth-quarter scorers.

The Bulls also appeared in the 4th-most clutch games this season, which refers to any contest that is within 5 points with under five minutes to go. Of course, DeRozan was the team’s leading scorer in those moments, and he also fell behind Joel Embiid by just one point for the most points scored in clutch situations.

What He Did Well

The end of the section above pretty much sums up exactly what DeRozan did best this season. Practically no other player in the league proved to be as dominant and reliable in crunch time as the five-time All-Star. As the rest of the team struggled with injuries, DeRozan was the much-needed constant who continued to put this team in a position to succeed. Even if the second half of the 2021-22 campaign may not have gone according to plan, there is no question that without DeRozan’s heroics, the Bulls likely would have seen an even more catastrophic tumble down the standings.

Indeed, DeRozan’s mere availability is something he should be commended for. He appeared in 76 games during the regular season, which ended up as the second-most on the team behind only rookie Ayo Dosunmu. When we take a look at the league-wide minute totals, DeRozan finished third behind the Suns’ Mikal Bridges (2,854) and Hornets’ Miles Bridges (2,837), respectively, for the most played (2,743). I think it goes without saying: A player of his caliber clocking that many minutes is invaluable to the organization.

If we want to get a little more specific about DeRozan’s unreal scoring ability, he deserves extra credit in two key areas: Free-throw shooting and isolation. His 7.8 free-throw attempts per game were 5th-most in the NBA and his most since the 2016-17 season. For a Bulls team that ranked an underwhelming 17th in free-throw attempts per game, this was a skill set that proved particularly vital in late-game situations.

As for the isolation scoring, DeRozan has long been one of the best in the game, and this season was no exception. Among the players who scored at least 250 points in isolation, per NBA Stats, DeRozan’s 50.6 field goal percentage was second-best behind only Kevin Durant. Meanwhile, his 1.13 points per possession proved to be second to none.

Best Moment(s)

Look, there are so many fantastic DeRozan moments that I’m bound to miss a handful, but here are a few that immediately to mind.

•   Giving the franchise its first playoff victory since 2017 (and Bulls’ short-lived hope) with a memorable 41-point performance in Game 2:

•   Dropping a 50-burger in front of a raucous home crowd:

•   Posterizing his former team and one of the best rim-protectors in the league:

•   Also, posterizing The Finnisher (it made me lol):

https://twitter.com/chicagobulls/status/1508073854886813696?s=20&t=a4lQ5t29q_a-mspQ8WaCwA

•   This stupidly tough shot to finish off the Hawks:

•   Ya know, basically everything …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaoxfA7mfs8

Where He Can Improve

Considering DeRozan gave Bulls fans the best individual season they have seen since Derrick Rose, my heart tells me not to nitpick. But, hey, nobody is perfect.

DeMar DeRozan is still a negative on the defensive end, which proved to be an increasing problem when Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso began to deal with varying injuries. Dunks & Threes gave the veteran a -0.8 defensive estimated plus-minus this season, which only ranked in the league’s 39th percentile. According to Basketball-Reference, DeRozan has now finished with a negative defensive box plus-minus in 12 of his 13 years in the NBA.

So, yes, there is no doubt that DeRozan can drastically improve in this department, but expecting him to do so probably isn’t the wisest move. Headed toward the age of 33, it’s hard to imagine DeRozan will ever truly turn things around on this side of the ball. Not only will he always waste the bulk of his energy on the offensive end (and rightfully so), but he just doesn’t have any real foundation to build around at this point. His reaction time in on-ball situations is slow, and he simply struggles to stay locked in at times throughout the game.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think he’s as pitiful as some try to make him out to seem. He’s still an athletic player with a strong six-foot-six frame, and he can pull off the unexpected swat or charge call when he is locked in. As long as the Bulls can get backcourt help like Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso healthy to direct traffic, I think DeRozan is a good enough teammate to listen and hit his rotations.

One other area I’d like to see DeRozan have a stronger impact next season is in the passing department. I don’t mention this because I thought he did a particularly poor job with this throughout the season, but we did see he is capable of carrying an ever great facilitating role while with San Antonio.

DeRozan averaged a career-high 6.9 assists per game during his final year under Gregg Popovich, and he did it while averaging just 2.0 turnovers per contest. This is an area of his game that has greatly improved over the years, and part of me thinks it was a bit under-utilized over the course of this season, especially for an offense that wanted to run an equal-opportunity system. I’m sure the ever-changing lineups and injuries played a role in this, but I’d be curious to see if Billy Donovan can draw out this part of his game a little more moving forward.

What’s His Bulls Future?

When DeMar DeRozan signed his three-year, $82 million deal, many analysts around the league went into cardiac arrest. The immediate expectation was that this would be a massive overpay that would bite the Bulls in the butt for years to come. Now, after an All-NBA second-team season, DeRozan has already validated his paycheck.

With that said, I have zero expectation that DeRozan will play to the same level we saw from him this season. But I also have zero expectation that he will look as bad as some once thought.

Instead, I think DeRozan showed this year that he still has plenty left in the tank, enough that he will be the reliable secondary scoring option the Bulls want him to be moving forward. He plays a meticulous brand of basketball that should age well, and he also showed a clear willingness to play alongside a fellow elite scorer in Zach LaVine. Again, I don’t know if another All-NBA campaign is in his future, but I envision him as a key piece and fringe All-Star for the remainder of his Bulls tenure.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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